Stuff is happening at Leland and Gray Middle and High School in Townshend, VT, and people are noticing. Just ask Vermont Secretary of Education, Dan French, who recently paid a visit to the school. Or, you can read about it in The Brattleboro Reformer. What’s all the hoopla about? Deep student engagement and deeper learning by way of project-based learning.
Ask any L&G student about PBL and they’re likely to describe learning experiences that sharpen their skills around clear and effective communication, creative and practical problem-solving, using informed and integrative thinking, citizenship that’s responsible and involved, and developing self-direction. How, exactly, is all this accomplished? Through Leland and Gray’s multi-year effort to bring project-based learning to its community. Leading the charge are Leland and Gray’s principal, Bob Thibault, and UVEI Principal Internship Program candidate, Jesse Riemenschneider, L&G’s Proficiency-Based Graduation and Project-Based Learning Coordinator.
Since delving into PBL, Bob and Jesse report that the school has seen positive changes in both students and faculty across the board with highly-engaging projects that culminate with a public exhibition of learning. The students’ showcase presentations have demonstrated a high level of ownership and self-direction, with a focus on collaboration and communication skills. Faculty report that they have appreciated the collaborative opportunities across departments and grade levels.
This endeavor, however, has not come without some roadblocks. Logistical challenges included creating teacher collaboration time, arranging for a second bus run, and supervising students during teacher prep time. Funding has also been a challenge, and the weather has impacted outdoor projects. Despite these challenges, the showcases at the end of the semesters helped bring the collective vision together and demonstrated tremendous growth.
Make no mistake: an endeavor like this is the product of a full-court press by all educators within the school and requires teachers to engage in their own deeper learning. To implement PBL successfully, teachers required initial professional development on what PBL could and should look like, how to set it up, and how to create a continuous improvement loop. Teachers also needed to be reflective on their strengths and areas of growth to create desirable and teachable options for students. Effectively leading this type of shift in teaching and learning can only be done through a collaborative process rather than a top-down approach and UVEI has been fortunate to work with this team of dynamic and enthusiastic educators over the past couple of years for this very purpose.
At this point, leaders can say that any of the challenges L&G has faced are well worth it as the school board fully supported the initiative from the beginning, and parents and the surrounding community have responded positively. Any initial pushback was mostly about scheduling and bus runs, and not about the style of teaching and learning. On a recent delayed start of school due to inclement weather, some of the first questions that parents asked school administrators was whether or not PBL would still be included in the day. The response: a resounding “Yes!”.
So, what’s next for Leland and Gray? The initiative’s next logical step is to integrate PBL more and more into everyday classroom experiences, making deeper learning at L&G more of the norm and less of an exception. Other schools might want to keep an eye on L&G’s innovative approaches and use this school as a model for their own PBL initiatives.
Adam Norwood, EdD, coordinates professional education partnerships at UVEI. For more information on existing partnerships, or to discuss potential new partnerships with Vermont or New Hampshire schools, contact Adam at email@example.com.